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Guided to Greatness and Godliness by Three Wise Men

When Olympic volleyball hopeful Jonathan Winder lost his father, he gained a trio of devoted mentors.

Jonathan Winder

Volleyball player Jonathan Winder was blessed with great genes—destined, it would seem, to find success on the courts and ballfields of southern California.

Like his dad, Bill, he’s tall—6 foot 8—and muscular. But his father, a UCLA rower, wasn’t there to coach him or cheer him on, to pass along his love of sports. Or his deep faith in God. He died when Jonathan was four, leaving his wife with three young children to raise.

Without a male role model Jonathan could have easily struggled to find his own identity; drifted, uncertain of anything, even God.

Enter the “Three Wise Men.” Long-time friends of his parents, they stepped into the void, each taking on a different responsibility.

Rich Kredel managed the family’s finances. Jim Astor provided counseling and taught the kids lessons from the Bible. And then there was Ed Cohan, the coach.

From the time Jonathan could kick a ball Ed saved a seat for him in his minivan, driving him and his son Eddie, Jr., to soccer, football and Little League.

"These are my sons,” was how Ed always introduced the boys. Jonathan remembers those words far more than any athletic instruction the coach ever gave him. There was never a question of him belonging, feeling accepted, supported.

Ed didn’t pressure the boys to win, didn’t confuse them with complicated coaching stratagems, didn’t yell when they dropped a pass.

“He just made it so much fun,” Jonathan remembers. “He had so much enthusiasm. It was just a blast to be around him.”

Jonathan found the connection to his birth father that he carries with him today—a shared love for everything athletic.

Ed knew just how important that was. His own father walked out on his family. That’s why he’d become a coach. He never wanted a child to feel like there was no one who believed in him.

It was Ed who encouraged Jonathan as he grew ever taller to try a new sport, one he didn’t coach—volleyball. “You’ll be great,” he said. Jonathan was. By 15, he was playing for the U.S. junior national team, Ed at every game cheering him on.

Today, even after an All-American career at Pepperdine University, Jonathan still lives with some uncertainty.

He was one of four setters competing for two slots on the Olympic team and ultimately failed to make the cut. On the pro circuit in Europe, his contracts never extend beyond the current season. At times the pressure can get to him.

“But I know I’m never alone,” Jonathan says. “I always have God, and my family and the wise men. I’d be lost without them.”

Read more inspiring Olympic profiles.

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